Mental note: Too much information

A warning for those of gentle disposition or of a tender age – please do not read on if you are easily upset by sexual references, descriptions of bodily functions or your sons erection (sorry Mum).

As mentioned on the home page, partly due to a youthful excess of physical exercise that borderlined on masochism , I have abused my body over the years to the extent that various joints are failing me.  The fact that the conservatives also stole my school milk* probably didn’t help.  My right hip is the second joint, after a rotator cuff that has gone to pot and I had it whipped out the day before yesterday after several months of waiting.

*A political reference that won’t resonate with anyone that didn’t go to school in the UK during the 1970’s

I managed to sidestep the long list of geriatrics at my local hospital with a clever dodge from my GP. He suggested that I could join the public waiting list and still go with my chosen private orthopaedic surgeon in a very rural and well regarded public hospital at Hamilton, built circa 1860 and located in the western farming districts of Victoria. With my adopted home town being very much a kind of ‘Gods waiting room’, the lists ran long there and Hamilton’s was much shorter.  As it happened, it was an easy choice to make.

Mrs Jerry and I conducted a reconnaissance last week to make sure we knew where we were going and to have some pre op tests of the poking, prodding and bloodletting kind. I knew I was in the right place (mental note #1) when I saw a wall size photograph of HRH the Princess Margaret, the hospitals patron. Margaret had long been one of my favourite royals, largely due to her sense of humour, love of a drink and her refusal to conform.

HRH the Princess Margaret.  Patron of the hospital and all round ‘good sort’

Pretty much all the staff there have a sense of humour and go about their jobs professionally and in a caring friendly manner. It should be said at this juncture, that in my opinion, there is no real difference between public and private health care in Australia, except perhaps with the availability of private rooms and wine with dinner with the latter. It’s still the same great staff and facilities. My first hint of that sense of humour was with the pre admission registrar, a very nice lady of a certain age who originally hailed from south Africa. She demanded that I ‘take off my shirt and lie on the bed’ and added “I bet that’s the best offer you’ve had all day” Mental note #2 – must come here again…

One of the pre op appointments was with the physiotherapists who were both twenty something nurses. They blushed and stumbled their way through the description of having to teach me how to shower and dress safely, which caused Mrs Jerry to roll her eyes and tease me with ‘which one would do you think it would be, or would they both do it at once’? Mental note #3 I’m in the right place!

On the day of the race, I checked in en famille and of course, I had to dress for the occasion. I was given a fetching backless gown in “a lovely blue, that brings out your eyes dear” and a pair of disposable pants, that reminded me of a hair net; “bet you’ll be wanting to take a pair of those home dear” the 60 years young admissions nurse giggled. I don’t think that they get many ‘young and otherwise healthy’ 52 year olds in for hip replacements, so I was apparently a bit of a rarity. I was given my premeds with a ‘bottoms up’ and I settled back to enjoy the ride.  The kids were obviously waiting for some kind of spectacular reaction, but I think they were fairly disappointed with my refusal to perform some humiliating ‘dabbing’ dance moves on camera.

The next part of my halloween outfit was a very fetching pair of tubigrip stockings, which unaccountably reminded me of Margot Robbie’s character in the Marvel comics; Harley Quinn. And yes, I know now that she wore fishnets, but some 30 minutes after the premeds, my mind wasn’t working in an appropriate way. That thought (and a few others) stayed with me and that coupled with the heightened stress of the situation caused a totally inappropriate and wholly irrepressible erection.

Strangely enough, I don’t think that I had expressed more than a passing appreciation of Ms Quinn’s slutty, yet arresting appearance during the ‘Suicide squad’ movie, but apparently ‘something’ about her character had stuck in my mind. The bastard thing wouldn’t go down even with the old standby of inwardly chanting “Margaret Thatcher naked, Margaret Thatcher naked…” over and over again and it was there for the duration. As I was wheeled in, the theatre nurse glanced down, smiled and commented, “we don’t see a lot of those here” Mental note #4 – this is NOT the right place for one of those.

I did slip under and away from the embarrassment when the spinal anaesthetic was put in and according to the jolly anaesthetist when I came round, I had managed to blurt out the multi use ‘F” verb/noun/exclamation several times as the needle slipped in and before the inappropriate thoughts had totally left me.

Unfortunately during my recovery nap, I had suffered from a malfunction which is apparently common to patients who have had a spinal anaesthetic and I had copiously wet my bed. Mortified with embarrassment and as the very understanding nurses changed my sheets and wriggled me into my dry PJ’s, I did it again, this time in full view. Mental note #5, for the next hip, request adult diaper to be installed immediately after the op…

After the very public bed wetting incident, I realised that I shared the observation ward with two older ladies, both of whom had gone under the knife with the same surgeon, for the same op just before me. They were fairly sanguine about bladder woes, having had several children and ‘incidents’ themselves.  When I was cleaned up, but still feeling fairly woozy, my family kindly brought in chocolate digestive biscuits, wine gums and jubes; all my undisputed favourites and I tucked in with relish, but later that evening, my ward mates managed to top that with deliveries of freshly baked cakes and even a pizza.

Thanks to the shared ward, I now know all about their grandchildren, how lovely living in the same country town you were born in is and that in Hamilton, they are all royalists really. I drew the line at discussing Princess Katherine’s alleged third pregnancy as reported in womans day (so it must be true) and I can fully attest there is something to be said for having your knowledge of the internal politics of the Victorian Country Womens Association broadened.  I also know I couldn’t have been looked after any better.

In the morning, we were all moved to the other end of the corridor, where the ladies would have other like minded people to talk to and I was wheeled into a private room, probably due to my excessive snoring. In spite of the epidural and its gradually waning effects, I was able to carry out my most immediate of ablutions without impediment and the bedside bottle soon had to be changed several times. There was a ‘near miss’ situation when I attempted to foolishly help the nurse to change bottles and nearly dropped the thing and I resolved to leave that sort of thing to the experts going forward.

Early afternoon, with the assistance (or perhaps encouragement) of my painkillers, I had an attack of the munchies and armed with my new crutches, I decided to head downstairs to the coffee shop on the ground floor of the hospital.  Disappointingly, it was closed, but having set my self the goal, I decided to find a local cafe.  Hamilton is a lovely town, it has a lake, numerous nice houses and several interesting shops.  I know this because I window shopped through the streets for a happy couple of Oxycontin numbed hours.  I found a decent looking cafe and threw whatever remaining caution I had left to the wind and decided to have a glass of the local shiraz and a muffin.  The kindly staff didn’t bat an eyelid at my slightly dishevelled appearance, the hospital ID band on my wrist, nor even at the cannula still taped to the back of my hand.  Oh and I may, or may not have still have had my pyjamas on, I can’t quite recall…

I returned to the ward and a sensed a buzz of excitement.  Apparently, there had been a new hospital record set with regards to post operative activity and with only 24 hours between the operating table and Tosca’s coffee shop, I had created a bit of a stir.  By that stage I had googled ‘Oxycontin and alcohol’ and decided that I probably shouldn’t admit to the shiraz and instead mumbled an appreciation of their Bolivian roast.  Impressively, no one took me to task for my excursion and working on the premise that it is better to beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission, I decided to brazen it out and congratulated the physios for their excellent work, that had enabled me to be back on my feet so quickly.  As an aside, my step counter showed 2.5km but I also decided to keep that one quiet.

After having been kindly, but firmly confined to bed, I checked out the range of new mobility aids that I had been issued.  The first, a brand new Zimmer frame (pictured) was discarded with the knowledge that I had already graduated to crutches and in any case, a picture of me driving one on social media would be disastrous.

No, you can’t get a picture of me using it!

The second item however looked like it had scope for masses of fun.  It was known as a ‘gripper’ and you can’t of course bend over when you have had your hip replaced and so if you drop anything, without a flunky following you around and picking up after you, you’d be stuffed.

The “gripper” being used to avoid a ‘Douglas Bader’ moment and confirm the actual presence of my feet.

The next morning, when the hospital had finally had enough of me, I was approved for release and I spent the rest of the impatiently packing and hobbling through the corridors.  Luckily, my chocolate digestives lasted out the afternoon and after thanking all of the staff I could find, I was driven home to what could turn out be the most trying phase of recovery, the rehabilitation. Trying for my family, that is…

In closing, I should disclose that I broke the first gripper trying to remove ‘Margot’s’ stockings, despite apparently having been told not to try and get them off myself.  I have now been issued with a replacement and I am currently trying to see if they are sensitive enough to lift a fine stemmed glass.




It’s ‘bring your lamb to school day’


Mrs Jerry is a fantastic primary school teacher and she’s always looking for ways to enhance the learning experience of her pupils.  They adore the way that she has guinea pigs, fish and a turtle in the classroom and they vie for the privilege of feeding, holding and playing with the pets.  I have to admit that the experience is slightly less rewarding for the one who normally does the ‘mucking out’ of said class pets, but sometimes I get to work with the boys who don’t have many positive male role models in their lives and seeing their enjoyment of the even the most mundane tasks, (just so long as someone is doing the work with them), makes me very happy.

Last week, it was designated ‘bring your lamb to school day’ by my wife and we made an early morning trip to see a neighbour who had moved twelve young lambs back from their farm and into their yard in order to give them a better start in life by keeping them out of the cold and away from the foxes. They were being hand fed and were as tame as they could be, following around the nearest human and bleating sweetly.

How on earth do you pick one?

I loaded one of the dogs old sleep crates into the back of the car and let the kids choose the cutest two.  That clearly wasn’t easy, but we made off with ‘Samantha’ and ‘Trip’.  Yes, they all had names, although I accused the owner of having made the names up on the spot just to appease the kids! Probably because thats just what I would have done…

Trip on the left, Samantha on the right.  How cute are they? 

Samantha and Trip, who were by then around four weeks old, bleated prettily all the way to school and then proceeded to turn my hitherto clean and new smelling car into something decidedly more agricultural.

We attracted a great deal of excited kids (and adults) as we carried the lambs into the classroom and corralled off a small area for them to roam around in. Very quickly it became apparent that we’d need some form of ‘blotting paper’ to keep the area relatively clean and I was despatched to the supermarket to buy newspapers and a bag of straw.

Getting to know you

It’s difficult not to become attached to something like a four week old lamb and they really are quite lovely. In a previous post I described how country people aren’t generally so sentimental with their animals, particularly when they will eventually end up on the plate, but that doesn’t stop them from treating their animals very well and the small flock of twelve lambs that our friends have at home certainly don’t lack for cuddles.

“Trip” in all his glory

Around twenty eight years ago as newly weds, we stayed on a friends farm in western Australia. I worked in a bauxite mine and Mrs Jerry laboured as a roustabout in the shearing sheds. The shearers tried all sorts of ruses to fluster and reduce the pretty little blonde to tears in the competitive and very male atmosphere, but they didn’t manage it.

That pretty little blonde, with Dolly her favourite sheep dog

The shearing sheds.  Note the sprung back supports, you need them after a couple of hundred sheep have passed through.

They weren’t altogether gentle with the shears either and every now and again, a sheep would end up with quite a nasty cut on their newly shorn skin. There was always a sewing kit in the shed that was used for patching up the ‘nicked’ sheep and as an encouragement to avoid cutting the sheep, the shearer who injured the sheep was supposed to patch them up themselves, but they tried it on with her and flung a bleeding sheep at her with the instructions to ‘sew ‘er up’ but Mrs Jerry had caught on to what they were doing and cooly retorted ‘you cut the poor bugger so you can sew her up yourself’ and returned to throwing and sorting the fleeces. Begrudgingly and following the jeers and laughter of all of his mates, the shearer did just that. Mrs Jerry was invited to the pub that night by them all – a rare honour indeed when Ozzie country pubs were still very much a bastion of chauvinism.

At the end of my shift, surrounded by an orange halo of bauxite dust,  I was usually dragooned into helping out with rounding the sheep up in the evenings and putting them into a holding pen for the next mornings shearing.

The holding pens.  It wasn’t unusual to see the dogs running over the sheep backs to keep them moving forward!

I loved walking behind the farm dogs who nipped and yapped at heels of the sheep in the soft early evening light and I learned that there’s nothing quite as daft as a frightened sheep when they are boxed into a corner.

Rounding up the mob.

Rather than take the obvious and easy way, which is usually to go the way the dog wants them to go, the sheep will often run in a totally different direction and get stuck in a fence or a bush. You’d have to wade in behind them, lift them up using their wool as a carrying handle and dump them into the back of the ute before they collapsed from the stress. A few years later, whilst running a wildlife sanctuary in north Queensland, I discovered that whilst trying to herd Emu’s, that they have the same daft, but in their case, belligerent temperament and rather than turn around (they can’t walk backwards) and go the way you wanted them to, they’d try and jump over you, usually knocking you to the ground in the process!

The kids in Mrs Jerry’s class absolutely loved the lambs, but for obvious reasons, I can’t publish many pictures with them in it, but here’s a nice picture of Samantha checking out their art work.

And just in case you think that I am going too soft, here’s what we had for dinner that night…

Bon appétit!



You can’t go to China and not visit the wall.  Well actually, I have been to China many times over the last 20 years and have never gotten around to it, but last year, I took the opportunity of a trip that lasted over the weekend and got out of Beijing with a hire car and driver.  Mutianyu regarded as the ‘best’ section of the wall, is around 80 km from Beijing and is well administered, do beware the aggressive t shirt sellers however.  Jinshanling is also a very good place to get to the wall and although it’s around 157 km from Beijing, the crowds and souvenir sellers are less frenzied.

The Local government takes care of their own sections and some areas, such as Mutianyu and Jinshanling are beautifully restored and maintained.  I did hear from my driver of one council who decided to enlist the help and sponsorship of local business to fund the rebuild and maintenance.  The selected business just happened to be a supplier of ceramic tiles and fittings and that section of the great wall of China ended up looking like a hybrid between a public convenience and a Versace palace. State government was not amused apparently…

A very brisk morning on the wall.  It cleared the sinuses

It’s not often you can see a ‘cityscape’ in Beijing, but on recent trip I encountered a very rare clear summers day.  It was a Monday morning, of course, which means that the air has had the weekend to clear out all the traffic fumes and industrial smog.  Central heating goes on in Beijing on November the 15th and all the coal-fired power stations spark up at the same time.  Yes, you read that correctly, the Government determines when its cold enough for you to have your heating on.

What that means of course, is that your eyes sting, your throat gets sore and you’ll have a something between a low-level and ‘get me the hell out of here’ headache from the moment you leave your hotel in the morning, to the moment you return in the evening.  Forget navigating around the city by landmarks because you won’t be able to see more than 200 metres horizontally or vertically.  The Government restricts what cars can be on the road and tries all sorts of other controls but ultimately has said that poor air quality is the price you pay for progress.

Monday morning and clear skies

I was so excited when I arrived recently and I could see right across the city from the office window.  So excited in fact that I joined all the other Beijing’ers and stood at the window and ooh’d and ahh’d at the distant mountains that circle the western side of the capital. I even forgot to take a picture…  The next morning of course, it was back to a ‘normal’ smoggy day.  But bear in mind that this is summer and you can see twice as far as you normally can.

Back to normal by Tuesday

And here’s what you have to look forward to in winter.

Mao in Winter.  (sadly, not one of my pictures)

I have, on previous trips headed out into the countryside, where the air is clean(ish) and as part of my work, I have seen a good deal of renewable energy projects and had occasion to view their agricultural practices. On one trip I saw what looked like an army of soldiers with small ladders, tending to vast orchards. Upon closer inspection I saw that it was indeed a small army of soldiers tending to the orchards and in fact they were cross pollinating the blossom on the thousands of trees with tiny paint brushes. Normally, of course cross-pollination is done by our friends the bees and other insects, but the Chinese have used so many chemicals to make sure that harmful insects can’t get anywhere near the crops, that there are no bees left alive. In Australia and the US, the farmers truck in millions of commercially managed bees at the crucial times and have them augment the local bees efforts. It’s apparently cheaper to get the Army in here.

I had occasion to visit a location in the south (Tianjin) and decided to take the bullet train to turn a 4 hour drive into a 35 minute trip. For those of you who have used the Shinkansen in Japan, they are identical, if not quite as luxurious. They are also a bit quick as you can see from the speedometer picture  on the wall below. Getting on and off them is like negotiating a Saturday afternoon football crowd at the turnstiles as they are very well patronised.

Train stations are unfortunately a popular venue for violent political protests and the government are very well aware of this and prepare accordingly.  Luckily, firearms are very difficult to obtain in China, so your average criminal resorts to physical force or the use of edged weapons to get what they want. The Uyghur terrorists who largely reside in the Xinjiang region and want autonomy, tend to use knives in frenzied attacks in public spaces, such as train stations, of course.

The Chinese authorities now post uniformed and plain clothes security guards at prominent places who are equipped with long poles for holding would be knifemen at bay, presumably while they can be bludgeoned with clubs. The guards are also equipped with fire extinguishers as sadly, there are numbers of mentally ill or disenchanted citizens who also protest against the government with self-immolation. It happens a lot more than you’d think apparently, but is never reported.

Note the curved end to hold the nutters at bay and the extinguisher to put them out.

I enjoyed this trip, not least because of the warm weather and the relative lack of pollution, but also because I had the chance to sit outside at the JW Marriott restaurant and have my habitual (Australian) eye fillet steak and bottle of Malbec as a trip closer. I had looked forward to it for days and it always ends a visit well. I know it’s not a very Chinese dinner, but believe me, I have had enough of the three major Chinese countryside food groups – dog, duck and donkey to last me a lifetime, so please forgive my culturally insensitive meal.

All the best,